The 2017 Atlanta Falcons offense struggled under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Although the talent appeared to be there, the team struggled to put points on the board consistently. There’s hope that the 2018 version will be much improved, with the coordinator having a full year of experience under his belt now. He’ll get an incredible test as his offense will face off against the Eagles’ vaulted defensive unit. Here’s how the matchup looks.
Note: Analysis is based on PFF scores.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line was a good unit last year until injuries caught up to them in the postseason. Jake Matthews has steadily improved every year and is a top seven left tackle in the league. Ryan Schraeder can be great at the right end, but struggled some in 2017. New starter Brandon Fusco looks like a big improvement over former starter Wes Schweitzer, while Andy Levitre is solid at LG. Alex Mack is the key here, as he’s one of the best centers in the league. This is a good unit with some great pieces.
The Eagles boast an impressive defensive front, led by the dominant Fletcher Cox. Brandon Graham is criminally underrated as a pass rusher. Derek Barnett will be in his second year and looks to take his game to the next level. When you throw Michael Bennett into the mix, this is a defensive line that should be considered one of the best in the league. Throw in a veteran like Haloti Ngata, and you have a line that can stop even the best offensive units.
This is a hell of a matchup for the Falcons. The Falcons line is at its best when the play action is working, which means establishing the run early. That will be difficult to do against this tremendous defensive line. The edge has to go to the Eagles here.
The skill positions
Despite his traditional stats being down in 2017, Matt Ryan really had a strong season last year. Were it not for the insane drops and horrifying luck with interceptions, we’re likely talking about another fine statistical season from him. Julio Jones is healthy and is still one of the top two receivers in the league. Mohamed Sanu is a nice compliment who can win underneath and in traffic. The wild card here is Calvin Ridley. He’s shown incredible speed and precise route running, but is prone to the occasional drop. Austin Hooper has looked good this preseason, while Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both high-quality running backs who can both contribute at a high level in the passing game. This is an offense with a ton of weapons whose potential will need to be reached on Thursday.
The Eagles linebackers are led by Jordan Hicks in the middle, who looks to bounce back from his 2017 season. Nigel Bradham is capable but inconsistent (and also not playing due to a suspension), and Kamu Grugier-Hill is decent at the WLB spot, but will probably come off the field in nickel sets. This is a linebacking corps that the Falcons match up well against.
In the secondary, the Eagles have two good safeties in Rodney McCleod and Malcolm Jenkins. At the corners, Ronald Darby is a good starter while Jalen Mills is an improving player the Falcons may look to take advantage of. This isn’t the strongest secondary in the league, but they are helped considerably by the defensive line in front of them.
The Falcons match up very well here. As long as Ryan is given enough time, the sheer number of weapons give the Falcons the edge.
This is a very good match up that fans shouldn’t overlook. While the Eagles do come into the game banged up, this defense is still a force to be reckoned with. The question for the Falcons offense is less about talent and more about execution. If they can execute at a high level, they should be able to score in this game. If not, this could be another long day in Philly.